a. General.

(1) Electron beam welding (EBW) is a welding process which produces coalescence of metals with heat from a concentrated beam of high velocity electrons striking the surfaces to be joined. Heat is generated in the workpiece as it is bombarded by a dense stream of high-velocity electrons. Virtually all of the kinetic energy, or the energy of motion, of the electrons is transformed into heat upon impact.(2) Two basic designs of this process are: the low-voltage electron beam system, which uses accelerating voltages in 30,000-volt (30 kv) to 60,000-volt (60 kv) range, and the high voltage system with accelerating voltages in the 100,000-volt (100 kv) range. The higher voltage system emits more X-rays than the lower voltage system. In an X-ray tube, the beam of electrons is focused on a tar-get of either tungsten or molybdenum which gives off X-rays. The target becomes extremely hot and must be water cooled. In welding, the target is the base metal which absorbs the heat to bring it to the molten stage. In electron beam welding, X-rays may be produced if the electrical potential is sufficiently high. In both systems, the electron gun and the workpiece are housed in a vacuum chamber. Figure 10-80 shows the principles of the electron beam welding process.

b. Equipment.

(1) There are three basic components in an electron beam welding machine. These are the electron beam gun, the power supply with controls, and a vacuum work chamber with work-handling equipment.(2) The electron beam gun emits electrons, accelerates the beam of electrons, and focuses it on the workpiece. The electron beam gun is similar to that used in a television picture tube. The electrons are emitted by a heated cathode or filament and accelerated by an anode which is a positively-charged plate with a hole through which the electron beam passes. Magnetic focusing coils located beyond the anode focus and deflect the electron beam.

(3) In the electron beam welding machine, the electron beam is focused on the workpiece at the point of welding. The power supply furnishes both the filament current and the accelerating voltage. Both can be changed to provide different power input to the weld.

(4) The vacuum work chamber must be an absolutely airtight container. It is evacuated by means of mechanical pumps and diffusion pumps to reduce the pressure to a high vacuum. Work-handling equipment is required to move the workpiece under the electron beam and to manipulate it as required to make the weld. The travel mechanisms must be designed for vacuum installations since normal greases, lubricants, and certain insulating varnishes in electric rotors may volatilize in a vacuum. Heretically sealed motors and sealed gearboxes must be used. In some cases, the rotor and gearboxes are located outside the vacuum chamber with shafts operating through sealed bearings.

c. Advantages. One of the major advantages of electron beam welding is its tremendous penetration. This occurs when the highly accelerated electron hits the base metal. It will penetrate slightly below the surface and at that point release the bulk of its kinetic energy which turns to heat energy. The addition of the heat brings about a substantial temperature increase at the point of impact. The succession of electrons striking the same place causes melting and then evaporation of the base metal. This creates metal vapors but the electron beam travels through the vapor much easier than solid metal. This causes the beam to penetrate deeper into the base metal. The width of the penetration pattern is extremely narrow. The depth-to-width can exceed a ratio of 20 to 1. As the power density is increased, penetration is increased. Since the electron beam has tremendous penetrating characteristics, with the lower heat input, the heat affected zone is much smaller than that of any arc welding process. In addition, because of the almost parallel sides of the weld nugget, distortion is very greatly minimized. The cooling rate is much higher and for many metals this is advantageous; however, for high carbon steel this is a disadvantage and cracking may occur.d. Process Principles.

(1) Recent advances in equipment allow the work chamber to operate at a medium vacuum or pressure. In this system, the vacuum in the work chamber is not as high. It is sometimes called a “soft” vacuum This vacuum range allowed the same contamination that would be obtained in atmosphere of 99.995 percent argon. Mechanical pumps can produce vacuums to the medium pressure level.(2) Electron beam welding was initially done in a vacuum because the electron beam is easily deflected by air. The electrons in the beam collide with the molecules of the air and lose velocity and direction so that welding can not be performed.

(3) In a high vacuum system, the electron beam can be located as far as 30.0 in. (762.0 mm) away from the workpiece. In the medium vacuum, the working distance is reduced to 12.0 in. (304.8 mm). The thickness that can be welded in a high vacuum is up to 6.0 in. (152.4 mm) thick while in the medium vacuum the thickness that can be welded is reduced to 2.0 in. (50.8 mm). This is based on the same electron gun and power in both cases. With the medium vacuum, pump down time is reduced. The vacuum can be obtained by using mechanical pumps only. In the medium vacuum mode, the electron gun is in its own separate chamber separate from the work chamber by a small orifice through which the electron beam travels. A diffusion vacuum pump is run continuously, connected to the chamber containing the electron gun, so that it will operate efficiently.

(4) The most recent development is the nonvacuum electron beam welding system. In this system, the work area is maintained at atmospheric pressure during welding. The electron beam gun is housed in a high vacuum chamber. There are several intermediate chambers between the gun and the atmospheric work area. Each of these intermediate stages is reduced in pressure by means of vacuum pumps. The electron beam passes from one chamber to another through a small orifice large enough for the electron beam but too small for a large volume of air. By means of these differential pressure chambers, a high vacuum is maintained in the electron beam gun chamber. The nonvacuum system can thus be used for the largest weldments, however the workpiece must be positional with 1-1/2 in. (38 mm) of the beam exit nozzle. The maximum thickness that can be welded currently is approximately 2 in. (51 mm). The nonvacuum system utilizes the high-voltage power supply.

(5) The heat input of electron beam welding is controlled by four variables:

(a) Number of electrons per second hitting the workpiece or beam current.(b) Electron speed at the moment of impact, the accelerating potential.

(c) Diameter of the beam at or within the workpiece, the beam spot size.

(d) Speed of travel or the welding speed.

(6) The first two variables in (5), beam current and accelerating potential, are used in establishing welding parameters. The third factor, the beam spot size, is related to the focus of the beam, and the fourth factor is also part of the procedure. The electron beam current ranges from 250 to 1000 milliamperes, the beam currents can be as low as 25 milliamperes. The accelerating voltage is within the two ranges mentioned previously. Travel speeds can be extremely high and relate to the thickness of the base metal. The other parameter that must be controlled is the gun-to-work distance.(7) The beam spot size can be varied by the location of the fecal point with respect to the surface of the part. Penetration can be increased by placing the fecal point below the surface of the base metal. As it is increased in depth below the surface, deeper penetration will result. When the beam is focused at the surface, there will be more reinforcement on the surface. When the beam is focused above the surface, there will be excessive reinforcement and the width of the weld will be greater.

(8) Penetration is also dependent on the beam current. As beam current is increased, penetration is increased. The other variable, travel speed, also affects penetration. As travel speed is increased, penetration is reduced.

(9) The heat input produced by electron beam welds is relatively small compared to the arc welding processes. The power in an electron beam weld compared with a gas metal arc weld would be in the same relative amount. The gas metal arc weld would require higher power to produce the same depth of penetration. The energy in joules per inch for the electron beam weld may be only 1/10 as great as the gas metal arc weld. The electron beam weld is equivalent to the SMAW weld with less power because of the penetration obtainable by electron beam welding. The power density is in the range of 100 to 10,000 kw/in2.

(10) The weld joint details for electron beam welding must be selected with care. In high vacuum chamber welding, special techniques must be used to properly align the electron beam with the joint. Welds are extremely narrow. Preparation for welding must be extremely accurate. The width of a weld in 1/2 in. (12.7 mm) thick stainless steel would only be 0.04 in. (1.00 mm). Small misalignment would cause the electron beam to completely miss the weld joint. Special optical systems are used which allow the operator to align the work with the electron beam. The electron beam is not visible in the vacuum. Welding joint details normally used with gas tungsten arc welding can be used with electron beam welding. The depth to width ratio allows for special lap type joints. Where joint fitup is not precise, ordinary lap joints are used and the weld is an arc seam type of weld. Normally, filler metal is not used in electron beam welding; however, when welding mild steel highly deoxidized filler metal is sometimes used. This helps deoxidize the molten metal and produce dense welds.

(11) In the case of the medium vacuum system, much larger work chambers can be used. Newer systems are available where the chamber is sealed around the part to be welded. In this case, it has to be designed specifically for the job at hand. The latest uses a sliding seal and a movable electron beam gun. In other versions of the medium vacuum system, parts can be brought into and taken out of the vacuum work chamber by means of interlocks so that the process can be made more or less continuous. The automotive industry is using this system for welding gear clusters and other small assemblies of completely machined parts. This can be done since the distortion is minimal.

(12) The non-vacuum system is finding acceptance for other applications. One of the most productive applications is the welding of automotive catalytic converters around the entire periphery of the converter.

(13) The electron beam process is becoming increasingly popular where the cost of equipment can be justified over the production of many parts. It is also used to a very great degree in the automatic energy industry for remote welding and for welding the refractory metals. Electron beam welding is not a cure-all; there are still the possibilities of defects of welds in this process as with any other. The major problem is the welding of plain carbon steel which tends to become porous when welded in a vacuum. The melting of the metal releases gases originally in the metal and results in a porous weld. If deoxidizers cannot be used, the process is not suitable.

e. Weldable Metals.Almost all metals can be welded with the electron beam welding process. The metals that are most often welded are the super alloys, the refractory metals, the reactive metals, and the stainless steels. Many combinations of dissimilar metals can also be welded.